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Salem's Lot

George Salem is a lawyer representing the Holy Land Foundation, a Hamas front group. So why is he also advising the Bush administration?

10:30 AM, Dec 5, 2001 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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In press accounts following the September 11 attacks, Salem has boasted of his work in encouraging the administration to reach out to Muslims. According to a report in the American Lawyer, Salem "made some of the first and most powerful approaches to the White House on Sept. 11." Salem told American Lawyer's Tony Mauro that he immediately sent emails to two "senior officials" at the White House.

Salem's message on the attacks--that President Bush should say something quickly to quell anti-Arab American sentiment--was a good one, and the White House was responsive. "I am someone they know," Salem said. "But they did not need a great deal of prodding."

The next day, Salem sat down with Ralph Boyd Jr., assistant attorney general for civil rights, to help with efforts to document and investigate hate crimes directed at Arab Americans.

A little more than a month later, Salem was meeting with other Justice Department officials, not to discuss hate crimes, but to lobby on behalf of the Holy Land Foundation. Salem, according to an account in Legal Times, shrugs off claims that foundation funds terrorists and suggests that the lawsuit is without merit. "This litigation is precisely equivalent to what would happen if Israeli soldiers killed a Palestinian child in the street, and the family went ahead and sued the United Jewish Appeal," he said.

The Justice Department disagreed. Despite Salem's efforts, the Justice Department in mid-November came down in favor of the interpretation of the law presented by Boim family attorneys. "Neither the First Amendment nor any other part of the Constitution guarantees a right to fund a foreign terrorist organization," the Justice Department argued in an amicus brief. The Justice Department, like a federal district court judge had done previously, also rejected the argument that the groups could not be held liable unless they were directly involved.

White House spokesperson Claire Buchan says Salem is "one of many people we've reached out to to provide advice on outreach to the Muslim-American community. He has not ever provided any advice to the White House on the Holy Land Foundation."

But Salem did meet yesterday with "law enforcement officials" at the Treasury Department. Asked about the nature of the meeting, Buchan says it was "to open a dialogue, as we have indicated a willingness to do with any organization listed."

"Many people who contribute to the charity do so because they think it's a charity and without knowing that they fund terrorism," says Buchan. "They're unwittingly contributing to these groups, and that's exactly why we're naming them."

Salem, who just arrived in Dallas, says that his firm met with the Dallas U.S. Attorneys Office and FBI counterterrorism specialists to do "due diligence" on the Holy Land Foundation before agreeing to work for them.

"The counterterrorism people within the FBI told us they had absolutely nothing on this group," says Salem. "We currently represent them in connection with a smaller lawsuit on a very narrow legal issue. Whether we're going to continue to represent them is an ongoing question."

Stephen F. Hayes is staff writer at The Weekly Standard.